Note: This is something I wrote awhile ago, but I thought it may be appropriate for a site aimed at women.
Every time a discussion turns to equality between the genders, people who are unable or unwilling to consider the idea that men and women should be seen as "equal" will inevitably bring up three tired, old, arguments:
1. "Men and women are different, so they cannot be equal - so let's not pretend otherwise."
2. "Men generally have more physical strength than women, so men and women cannot possibly be equal."
3. "Since Nature has designed women to have the babies, women's skills are best suited to raisiing children and caring for families; and women should be 'honored' for, and happy with, their 'special' role in society."
The reason these same, tired, arguments come up as surely as the sun rises each morning is that they contain some truth. In fact, the partially accurate aspect of these arguments is pretty much the only thing to which those opposed to equality for women can desperately (or arrogantly) cling. Yes, we are different. Yes, men are generally bigger and stronger. Yes, woman have the babies. The "grasping-at-straws" aspects of those arguments are, however, that those isolated differences are not good enough reason to view half of the human population as "less than equal".
The first argument is smoke-screen argument. Most people who see that women and men should be seen as "equal" don't claim that they are "the same". We all know that the two genders are different. (To borrow a slang expression from a generation younger than my own, "Duh!") If they weren't different there wouldn't be two different terms for describing members of each gender. We all know that when we hear, "woman", it means a "female human being"; and when we hear, "man" (unless it is being used to describe all mankind), it means a "male human being". Now, if we say, "giraffe," or "koala," we pretty much know that we are no longer talking about human beings.
So, having established that men and women are the two different "varieties" of human beings, we need to ask why, on Earth, approximately one half of all people in the world should not be considered, "equal".
Sure, the two sexes are different. Then again, so are eye colors, hair colors, skin colors, and languages. Oh - are eye colors and hair colors superficial things that can't be compared to the physiological differences between men and women? These things were not considered "superficial" back when Hitler was in power, and back before people learned how ignorant and evil such thinking was. Back in Hitler's day (which, of course, came after the time when women in the US finally won the right to vote), it was actually believed that some coloring and features were the indication of a "superior race". Modern cultures of today find such thinking either insane, grossly ignorant, or both.
Some people would consider skin color as superficial. Others call attention to the fact that different races or nationalities actually do share some characteristics deeper than skin color. One race or nationality may be at risk of one medical condition or another while the other races are not. Sometimes these risks are related to lifestyle, but some are genetic.
Does being at higher risk of Tay-Sachs, Sickle Cell, or Cystic Fibrosis mean one group is less deserving of respect or of being valued as human beings? How about actually having a disease (any disease)? Does that make someone less of human being? Does belonging to a group that may be at higher risk for a particular medical condition mean everyone in that group HAS the medical condition? Does it make them less intelligent, less emotionally strong, or of inferior character?
If we go back to realizing that, when all is said and done, skin color really is a pretty superficial thing, we should think, too, about how it was only in January, 2009, that people around the world were moved to tears when an African-American man was, after all these years, the first to become U.S. President. One might ask why it took so long, after African-Americans fought for equality in the 1960's. I am old enough to remember that there were, as recently as the 1960's, an awful lot of Americans who just were not going to see African-Americans as "equal". I am also old enough to see that most people (still not all) know better these days. Hillary Clinton's historic run showed the women have come a long way when it comes to being seen as "equal" ; but let's face it, the former First Lady's respectable showing was seen by many as a matter of her being boosted up in order to break that glass ceiling. Perhaps more worth mentioning is that fact in 2008 there was still a glass ceiling to be broken. A whole lot of little girls born even today will still be running into glass ceilings and closed doors from the day they're born, because who and what we are begins with our parents and teachers. Until all parents and teachers accept the idea that girls and women are "equal", those glass ceilings will loom, and those closed doors will continue to lock out.
There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about any differences in personalities or thinking that may exist between men and women. Not all women think alike. Not all men think alike. People have unique sets of talents, personality traits, and thinking styles in varying degrees and combinations. When it comes to some studies that claim one gender has one trait/ability more than the other, keep in mind that many studies are done on existing people - not on the brains of newborns or fetuses. While it is not for me to attempt to claim that there is not one, single, difference in the thinking or personalities of men and women, I do know that my own three children provided me with enough anecdotal evidence to question the validity of many studies.
Before I began building my family, I believed that the way to nurture children was to nurture "humans first", while trying to help each child like his own gender. My belief was that if we raise "humans first" and let Nature take care of the rest when the time comes (adolescence), we would raised well adjusted children.
When my first son, who was adopted from infancy, came along I followed the plan I had so carefully considered before having children. I gave birth to my other son and a daughter later. Without wanting to see as if I was approaching child-rearing as a "science experiment", I couldn't help but realize that I had my own little Nature/Nurture experiment, as well as a sampling of a gender study. I went about what I believed in my heart was the best nurturing I could offer; and I began to notice that all three of my children had very similar dispositions, preferences, strengths, and levels of maturity at any given age.
As each child reached adolescence Nature took its course, and each child "branched off" in the direction of his own gender. My sons are masculine. My daughter is feminine. They all share traits that are generally believed to be associated with one or the other gender. They also have their own, individual, personality traits that aren't particularly associated with their gender.
The point is that while my own little "science experiment" does not a study make, I have seen for myself how wrong "the world" so often is when it comes to gender differences. Further, my children are not the only people I (or you) know who have traits that may be believed by some to "belong" to the opposite gender.
It is not for me to say that there are absolutely no personality/abilities differences between the genders; but I am very confident that any such differences have been, and continue to be, grossly exaggerated in terms of degree and/or importance.
What about that pointing out of the fact that men usually have more physical strength " and larger builds "and so men and women cannot be equal"? You won't be surprised that I will first bring up that some women are physically stronger than some men. "That's not most," you think. I don't argue that it is - only point out that criteria for equality cannot logically be physical strength or body size. Some women are bigger than some men. What about people with dwarfism? Are they "less equal"? Are men with dwarfism equal to men of average height? Is the five foot/four-inch woman with an IQ of, say, 160 "less equal" to the six-foot man with an IQ of 110? Which one of those individuals would you prefer become President? Should IQ be the measure of who is "more equal" than someone else? If it is, then all women with IQ's that fall on the shallower end of the bell curve would have to be "more equal" than any men or women with IQ's falling within the "fatter" part of that bell.
The "we're different" argument doesn't make a shred of sense. Yes, we're different. We - all of us - are different. Like my little family of three children, we all are individuals but we are also the same in so many ways. A five-foot/one-inch woman is not likely to make much of a basketball player, but a hulking man isn't likely to make much of a ballerina either.
Should the petite, 100-lb, woman be allowed to play basketball if, by some chance, she could actually play better than "conventional" players? If, theoretically, that same woman were able to out-perform candidates for job as firefighter, should she be given the job? This is where those who just don't want to see women as equal will say, "IF such a woman existed then maybe she should be given equal opportunity, but she would be an exception."
Well, regardless of our gender, many of us are "exceptions" in one way or another. We all have different talents and abilities. If we happen to have exceptional talent or ability in something that is generally associated with the opposite gender, is there some reason such extraordinary ability should be disregarded? More importantly, doesn't the fact that exceptions exist simply prove that there are far fewer "rules" about which gender does what best (in areas separate from that ever-present reproductive one) than many people believe?
And, speaking of reproduction: There is that argument that women have the babies "so Nature designed women to have talents that best suited for child-rearing and taking care of families". Let's look at Nature: In the animal kingdom (although, of course, there are exceptions), the most common behavior is that the males father the children, may hang around for a certain amount of time, and then move on to the next family. Some animals, of course, do live in packs. Not all. Whether it is a mother cat with her kittens or a mother duck with her ducklings, in a good number of species it is the mother who raises and teaches her offspring, as well as just giving birth to them. My neighbors and I enjoyed a Summer of watching a wild-turkey mother and her babies take their morning and evening walks up the street. We watched from the time the babies were very small until they were just about the same size as their proud mother, who continued to "call" any of her "children" when they strayed.
The point is that while there are exceptions in the animals kingdom (as with human beings), it is often the mother to whom Nature has given the responsibility of not just having, but raising, offspring (both male and female offspring). Since so many female animals not only have and then feed their babies, but also raised them to adulthood (all the while, teaching them the ways of the world and survival), can we not assume that mothers (of any number of species) must be pretty knowledgeable about, and skilled with, life? Some people will readily agree that females have skill in teaching, as well as feeding, but if the care and raising of offspring has been entrusted by Nature to mothers as often as it is, how "less than equal" can be the skills that are required for "building" the next generation of a species?
When human babies are born they are born with only the potential to develop brain connections that will later determine not only the ways in which their brains are "wired", but some of their abilities and personality traits. In the first three years of life how a child is nurtured can affect how his immune system and stress response system will function for the rest of his life. Women aren't just feeding and loving their babies. They are "building" the brains of their children - boys and girls. Unless circumstances change the usual way things are done, today's men were yesterdays' little boys who had their brain development "built" by a woman. If Nature entrusted women with this role one would assume that the role goes well beyond "building another woman" and onto "building a human being". When boys grow up to be emotionally strong, intelligent, and of good character it isn't an accident. They learn those things not from a mother who "only knows about women's stuff", but who is skilled at "being a person". In other words, if anyone is "less than equal" it is not women.
Then, too, there are women who completely lack maternal instinct or ability to know how to do a good job of nurturing. There are those exceptions again.
Does not being a "natural mother" mean a woman can't run a company or run a marathon? Most people agree it does not. Aren't there men who are more loving, more skilled, and generally more capable of being a parent than women? If nurturing "belongs" to women, are such men "less than equal"? Who would be "more equal" - the non-maternal woman who builds up a multi-billion-dollar empire, or the "maternal" father who is a far better nurturer but who works as, say, an insurance salesman or auto mechanic?
Women have the babies, and that is both wonderful for them but inconvenient in a lot of ways. Pregnancy, after all, lasts for nine months (most of the time), and that can create "issues" in some employment situations. Although it takes four or five years for a child to begin school and require less time from his mother, children take up a lot of time, energy, and high-quality care in the first four or five years life. Children always need their mothers, of course, but as they grow they need their mother's undivided attention in smaller and smaller increments. All this makes having the babies inconvenient and challenging, in terms of careers or even just day-to-day living; but does the fact that women have the babies mean that they cannot, in all other ways, be equal to men? Does having a baby or two (or four or six) remove women from the human race? (because if it does not then what it is that would make them "less than equal"?)
Are we different? Sure we are - but not so different that my son doesn't seem to be a clone of me when it comes to many of his abilities and traits; or not so different that my daughter doesn't at times seem to be a clone of her father when it comes to similar things. We aren't so different that if I take, and get an "A", in the same accounting program a man does, that I will not be every bit as good an accountant. Female animals are often feared because of their instinct to kill to protect their offspring. When a female animal kills is her victim "less dead" because the otherwise non-aggressive female mustered up the courage and strength to attack when necessary? Is she, as a killer, "less equal" than her male counterpart because her motives are "nicer"?
When people talk about "equality for women" they aren't talking about "not noticing" that a five-foot/two-inch woman most likely does not belong on a football team. They aren't even talking about who likes Playboy Magazine and who doesn't. Women and men are different, but all people are different. Who is more different - a German woman raised by wealthy parents who are physicians and an American man raised in similar circumstances, or the same German woman compared with a woman raised by a parents in a primitive tribe of people, far from civilization?
Most of us don't live in a primitive tribe, and most of us have evolved well beyond the biological hard-wiring of animals who live in less complex societies. Women are actually said to generally say far more words each day than men do (although, again, there must be exceptions). If women were given the "gift of gab" (that is actually also a leaning toward being able to share knowledge and promote understanding between people); wouldn't it seem to follow that in a society where words are so often more powerful than fists, Nature just may have planned that women should eventually lead the world?
A lot of men have not intellectually/emotionally evolved to the point where they have overcome their aversion to the idea of ever having women in powerful roles in society. Many women who have been taught otherwise, or who lack the self-confidence, strength, education, and/or intelligence to expect to be seen as "equals" are also made to feel uncomfortable by women who expect (and deserve) to be seen as "equals". There are, without a doubt, a lot of people in this world who are emotionally invested in making sure that women are never seen as "equal". It is said that even on the biological hard-wiring level, male sexuality is aimed at dominance; and female sexuality is expressed in competition with other females.
Yes, we men and women are different (that's for sure). The trouble is that we human beings have evolved to where we have complex, educated, societies; and brains that, even if rooted in a long-ago, simpler, biology, are developed enough to be called, "human".
When I think of my beautiful, intelligent, strong, capable, sensible, and talented daughter; the thought that anyone on this Earth would consider her "less than equal" is enough to turn me into every bit the warrior that any mother in the animal kingdom becomes when her offspring is threatened.
Today so many of us see the horrible, horrible, crimes and sins of the racial injustice, inequality, and cruelty that stains the fabric of U.S. history. The sickening thing is that so few of us still don't see another version of crimes and sins that have been (and in spite of progress in the workforce, often continue to be) perpetrated against the human beings who happen to be of slighter stature and happen to be the ones to have the babies. Even more sickening is the fact that so many, who do see the ways in which women are not seen as equal, still don't believe there's anything wrong with that.